Ailsa Whyatt heads to IZU to discover a sophisticated yet exquisitely satisfying combination of flavours.

Located in the heart of Msheireb, the Mandarin Oriental plays host to a number of fabulous restaurants. We are at IZU tonight, to delight in the exquisitely fresh ‘panel de saveurs’ (‘layers of flavours’) – Chef Izu Ani’s Signature Set Menu that is both sophisticated and bursting with flavours. While the set menu features new and sublime dishes such as the light and refreshing Blueberry & Feta Salad, Salmon Sashimi, Grilled Spanish Octopus, Wagyu Striploin and Chef Izu’s special Fudge TiramIZU for dessert, we also try a host of other glorious creations. Our table overlooks the Barahat Msheireb town square and our server Christian, an experienced hand in fine dining, explains Chef Izu’s concept: high-end French-Mediterranean fine dining, balanced with a relaxed atmosphere. The freshest of ingredients, imported from all over the world; flavours here are beautiful and bold.

Plush leather armchairs, hand-blown Venetian water glasses, heavy table linen and leather-bound paper menus give the restaurant a calming, understated feel, decorated simply with a sprig of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, to detract nothing from the vibrant ingredients we are to encounter.

Freshly baked bread is duly distributed, served simply; a piquant olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar, before a glorious parade of the best that this menu has to offer. Salade de Feta et Myrtille, Salmon Sashimi Poulpe Espagnol, Wagyu Striploin, Tarte au Thon and Feta au Four are how we begin this delectable journey. Let me translate.

Blueberry & Feta Salad: South African blueberries, sprinkled with creamy feta cheese, shavings of mint and drizzled in a homemade balsamic dressing. A beautiful twist of flavours, which serve as the perfect, and most delicious palate opener.

Salmon sashimi: Coral hued slices of raw salmon immaculately arranged; the salmon’s light, subtle flavours are balanced with its buttery goodness, creating a melt-in-your-mouth situation.

Grilled Spanish Octopus: the star of the show. A sweet chilli glaze made with honey, oyster sauce and yuzu kosho (a chillibased, zesty Japanese paste), gives the à la plancha (grilled) octopus a warm kick, served with a cool avocado cream (secret ingredients include Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise) and then scattered with lime zest and micro herbs. The octopus is tender and full of flavour, and the lime is a sublime diadem bringing everything together. My guest claimed he didn’t like octopus until trying this, but is now a reformed character, having seen sense with this glorious dish.

Wagyu Striploin: An incomparable cut of premium steak, which is cooked to perfection; succulent, buttery and flavourful with a sweet umami flavour that accompanies top class Wagyu.

Tuna Tart: soft yellow fin tuna sits atop a thin and crispy pizza base that has been tickled with wasabi cream and then dusted with piment d’espellete (an extremely rare chilli, hand harvested and grown only in the south of France’s Basque region). There is nothing overpowering about this dish; we are treated to delicate and perfectly complementing flavours in a fusion of culinary offerings.

Baked feta cheese: do not write this off as ‘likely to be boring’. Boring it is not. A generous portion of feta (marinated for 24 hours in sumac, and ‘other secret ingredients’), served on a bed of the sweetest cherry tomatoes, roasted in honey and balsamic vinegar. Actually, sweet does not do them justice – they are luscious, juicy, little red bundles of joy. Chef Izu has then drizzled on some Kalamata olives, fresh oregano and parsley to produce something that is flavoursome and silky soft.

Chef Suranga, one of IZU’s talented team, brings out our main courses. Ravioli Maison, Crevettes Géantes Tigrées and Homard Entier Roti. Garnished with feather-light lashings of ricotta and a smoky tomato jam, delicate spinach raviolis are infused with tarragon, garlic and nutmeg, adding a warmth and flavour that is both unexpected, and yet exactly perfect. Before I elaborate further on the king tiger prawns and the whole roasted lobster, you should know that these wonderful arthropods are blanched, then removed from their shells before having their finesse added, meaning that they are consumed with the merest aid from your cutlery – no longer will we do battle with crustacean shells, require lemon-fuelled finger bowls, or leave our tables looking like a shellfish rave. Chef Izu, I salute you.

IZU’s Josper Charcoal Oven is responsible for roasting both our prawns and our lobster, giving them a delicious charcoal tang. The king tiger prawns are marinated in a yuzu ponzu sauce (another mainstay of Japanese cooking, although this house recipe contains not just lemon, but orange and pineapple juices as well), drizzled in a warming chilli butter and then peppered with smoky black garlic. Similarly, the whole roasted lobster (Canadian, in case you were wondering), crowns our table: we enjoy a smoked chilli butter, burnt lemon and fresh chives, which heighten the spectacular freshness of this sweet and succulent, delicately charcoaled meat. I am still dreaming about it…

We just about squeeze in dessert – Chef Izu’s special Fudge TiramIZU. A nut-free chocolate brownie, a crunchy layer of chocolate tuile, upon which sits a proud mound of mascarpone, caramel sauce and raw cacao powder. A deeply velvety chocolate brownie, mascarpone as light as air and crunchy tuile end what has been an incredibly refined stroll through the Mediterranean and its sensational flavours.

Outwardly simple, yet complex in its preparation, the food at IZU is a breath of fresh flavours. The food is crafted to sweep you on a journey reminiscent of farmers’ markets of old, where ingredients have been sourced and grown with love, and transformed into dishes that are interesting and really rather special.

The Signature Set Menu experience is priced at QR380 per person and QR190 per person for grape pairing. ✤